Children with step-siblings ‘more aggressive’

Family|February 5th 2016

Children with step- or half-siblings are more likely to be aggressive, researchers have suggested.

A team from the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research examined data from 6,500 young children and their families from across the United States. Each child’s ‘primary parent’ – usually the biological mother – was asked a series of questions about their behaviour.

Aggression was the main focus of the surveys. The parents were asked how often their child had a temper tantrum, destroyed the property of others or showed anger. The researchers found that those children who had step- or half-siblings were ten per cent more likely to behave in an aggressive way than those their age in different family circumstances.

Lead author Dr Paula Fomby is a sociologist at the University. She reported that despite the noticeable trend among children with step-siblings, the reason for it “remained elusive”.

One explanation for the increase in aggressive behaviour could be the “potentially uneven distribution of material and emotional resources to each child within a family”, she suggested. Children may believe their siblings receive more attention than they do and become resentful.

Parental absence could also be a significant factor, Dr Fomby claimed. All families with step- or half siblings have “at least one child in the household [with] an absent biological parent”, as a result of the end of a relationship or a death, she explained. Children with absent parents, especially absent fathers, tend to have “a higher risk of aggressive behaviour”.

Dr Fomby’s study suggested that as many as one in six American children currently live with stepfamilies. The newest data from the Office for National Statistics found that in the UK it was around one in ten in 2011.

Photo by su-lin via Flickr

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